Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Origin and Necessity of Religion

a. Evolution of the concept of God

Religion did not come into existence suddenly, but was evolutionary in nature. By evolution, I mean is the way majority of the society understood it has undergone evolution. (Just for the sake of understanding I have broken it down into different stages. But the whole evolution was much more gradual, and could not be strightly broken into stages)
People some times frown at the idea of Gods also evolving. But actually it is not god who is evolving, but our concept of god which is evolving. Child sees no thief in the world. But when he becomes a man, he starts seeing the world as good and bad. It is not that the world has changed, but the child’s concept of world has changed.
So if we see the early forms of religions, you mainly find two types.
1. Ancestor worship: Death is something which always puzzled the human mind. Man wants to keep the memory of his dead relatives, and think they are alive, or he himself does not want the death to be his end. Thus started the idea of ancestor worship or the ancestor worship. The big pyramids of Egypt are the standing testimonials of this idea.

2. Nature worship: Man has always tried to live in comfort, and time and again nature proved itself stronger than nature. So, the earlier tribal man saw the nature as something more powerful than himself. The dawn, the evening, the hurricane, the stupendous and gigantic forces of nature, its beauties, these have exercised the human mind, and it aspires to go beyond, to understand something about them. In the struggle they endow these phenomena with personal attributes, giving them souls and bodies, sometimes beautiful, sometimes transcendent. Every attempt ends by these phenomena becoming abstractions whether personalized or not. So also it is found with the ancient Greeks; their whole mythology is simply this abstracted nature worship.

In present India you find traces of both forms. But the early rig-veda samhita, you only find traces of nature worship. The forces of nature were endowed with personal attributes, and given names like Indra, Varuna (wind), Agni (fire) etc.

At the same time we know that these Devas were at first only powerful beings, nothing more. Most of you are horrified while reading that the ancient gods sometimes did things which, to us, are very repugnant. But when we read these books, we entirely forget that we are persons of the nineteenth century, and these gods were beings existing thousands of years ago. We also forget that the people who worshipped these gods found nothing incongruous in their characters, found nothing to frighten them, because they were very much like themselves. If drinking or molesting others wife is widely accepted in tribal society, their gods were also doing it.
The primitive man was a man of impulse. He did what occurred to him, and tried to bring out through his muscles whatever thought came into his mind, and he never stopped to judge, and seldom tried to check his impulses. So with the gods, they were also creatures of impulse. Indra comes and shatters the forces of the demons. Jehovah is pleased with one person and displeased with another, for what reason no one knows or asks. The habit of inquiry had not then arisen, and whatever he did was regarded as right. There was no idea of good or evil. The Devas did many wicked things in our sense of the word; again and again Indra and other gods committed very wicked deeds, but to the worshippers of Indra the ideas of wickedness and evil did not occur, so they did not question them.
But parallely, the humans slowly started coming together and formed groups. With this stated the concept of good of community before his own good. This helped in evolution of ethics (I will come to the reason for this phenomenon later). Now, when a glimpse of something higher, more ethical, dawned upon the intellect of mankind, the old gods were found to be incongruous — these boisterous, fighting, drinking, gods of the ancients

To this different nations reacted in different manners. In west, the old religions were rejected, and new religions formed. From Judaism developed the newer religions, which were more ethical etc etc. The old ones’ were throw out by the new ones. There were no longer these Egyptians, Greek gods. But India the attitude was different. They did not reject the old religion, but tried to give new meaning to the old ones. Thus retaining the form, but pouring new spirit in them.

They took a survey, as it were, of all the actions and qualities of the gods and discarded those which they could not harmonize, and kept those which they could understand, and combined them, labelling them with one name, Deva-deva, the God of gods. The god to be worshipped was no more a simple symbol of power; something more was required than that. He was an ethical god; he loved mankind, and did good to mankind. But the idea of god still remained. They increased his ethical significance, and increased also his power. He became the most ethical being in the universe, as well as almost almighty.

Hence new gods like Siva, Vishnu became powerful over the old gods (who now became chota gods) like Indra or Varuna. And the duty of these Gods is to protect the good, and destroy the evil. You can see that in Valmiki Ramayana, Rama was picturised as person protecting the good, and punishing the evil Ravana.

But then again, if God is all powerful, how come he has no power over the evil also. If Jehovah is all powerful, how can he still not control devil. So, they tried to bring in lila or wish of God.

Now the good and evil both being under God is fine, but why should evil still be there. Why should ppl suffer? Even if you see the posts by ppl earlier, it assumes that God is a “good” being. The idea and thinking of most ppl does not raise above the Good/Bad. They hence try to fit god too in the mould of Good and bad.

But if we think a little, we will soon understand that good and evil are not absolute, relative concepts- sides of the same coin. An additions somewhere is only at the cost of subtraction somewhere else. Darkness cannot exist without light, and light cannot be understood without darkness. To accept life is to accept death also. So, both were interdependent. One existing means the other also exists. It is in this context, I like the symbolism of the Kali’s image. In one hand she is holding skulls and symbolizing death, and with the other hand, she is giving boons. That’s the reality of the world. Good AND bad.

It is fine that good and evil are sides of same coin. But who is to decide which side one is. I can be son of a rich man, and you son of a poor man, and the world still a combination of both. So, how can we overcome this preference of inequality. It is exactly where the law-of-karma comes in. You are happy not because of the inequality in the view of God, but because of your own doing. And if you start being good, you can reap the benefits in the future. Hence the ideas of fate and God’s will is replaced by the idea of self-responsibility.

b. The motive force behind religion

Now what is the motive force working behind all these? What is that forces man to evolve the ideas of ethics? What is the force working that makes man to come up with different religious ideas?

In my view the idea of freedom is the most fundamental motive for everything that man does. Whether it is a man trying to earn lot of money, and being free from worldly problems or whether it is the man aiming for eternal heaven, and trying to be free from the death or whether it is the man aiming for Gods grace and be free from the misery or whether it is the man trying for moksha and be free from the cycle of birth and death, all are trying to express this same concept of freedom. His understanding of the means to freedom may differ, but not the motive.

In my opinion if there is any difference between a man and a child, it is not in what they want to express, but the clarity with which they can express their idea. The early man seeing the apple fall thought there was a demon there, invisible, which is trying to pull the apple down. He did not have the mathematics to explain it clearly like Newton. But it is the same idea of gravity that he was trying to express, but only in a crude manner. In the same way, it is the same idea of freedom that the man has been trying to explain, may be in a crude manner. But still the idea is the same.

Apart from the consideration of tie question how far these facts claimed by religions are true, we find one characteristic common to them all. They are all abstractions as contrasted with the concrete discoveries of physics, for instance; and in all the highly organised religions they take the purest form of Unit Abstraction, either in the form of an Abstracted Presence, as an Omnipresent Being, as an Abstract Personality called God, as a Moral Law, or in the form of an Abstract Essence underlying every existence. In modern times, too, the attempts made to preach religions without appealing to the super-sensuous state if the mind have had to take up the old abstractions of the Ancients and give different names to them as "Moral Law", the "Ideal Unity", and so forth, thus showing that these abstractions are not in the senses. None of us have yet seen an "Ideal Human Being", and yet we are told to believe in it. None of us have yet seen an ideally perfect man, and yet without that ideal we cannot progress.

Thus, this one fact stands out from all these different religions, that there is an Ideal Unit Abstraction, which is put before us, either in the form of a Person or an Impersonal Being, or a Law, or a Presence, or an Essence. We are always struggling to raise ourselves up to that ideal. Every human being, whosoever and wheresoever he may be, has an ideal of infinite power. Every human being has an ideal of infinite pleasure. Most of the works that we find around us, the activities displayed everywhere, are due to the struggle for this infinite power or this infinite pleasure. This struggle for perfection, for perfect harmony etc forms the basis of ethics.

c. The Necessity of religion

When may then ask, fine with the old ideas of motives behind the religion, but why do we need to still continue with these ideas of religion.

1. Firstly, no matter how much we talk we have to accept the reality that 99% ppl on earth DO continue to believe in God, inspite of all what we talk

2. Also, we are here talking about evolution of religious ideas on the society scale. This took for thousands of years. But the same and probably much more growth took place in the Prophets/Saints in just one life time. A child develops so in just 9 months, for what took millions of years for the humans to develop on a whole. The same way, eventhough the total society grows at a much slower rate, an individual can accelerate this evolution to reach perfection. Conscious effort to accelerate this journey towards perfection is what is called religious life.

3. So while talking of the society as a whole, we have to take the whole of the society into consideration, and not ones’ individual standards into account. Most ppl in the society have still not outgrown the ideas of forms and concrete stuff. So it is very natural that the man indulges in rituals, and clings to a higher power

4. Some ppl talk of terms like ‘spiritual but not religious’ or ‘religious humanism’. But it entirely one sided, for what deals with the study of spirit if not religion. Are we born where we start listening to our conscience? No we are trained to listen to our conscience. Can a tribal boy be able to listen to his conscience? No, he only listens to his impulses. Then what is the difference between a tribal man and a civilized man. It is his ability to listen to the voice of his conscience. But how did this develop? It is only by religions training. We are told from our childhood different ideas of self-discipline and self-control. Later we outgrow all the forms, and start ridiculing the forms and rituals. But we forget that it is only trough the concrete that we could go beyond concrete, and think of abstract. Accepted, organized religion has its own limitations, but the ideal should not be to thus destroy whole of it, but to reform it.

5. Thus, apart from the solid facts and truths that we may learn from religion, religion, as a science, as a study, is the greatest and healthiest exercise that the human mind can have. This pursuit of the Infinite, this struggle to grasp the Infinite, this effort to get beyond the limitations of the senses — out of matter, as it were — and to evolve the spiritual man — this striving day and night to make the Infinite one with our being — this struggle itself is the grandest and most glorious that man can make. Some persons find the greatest pleasure in eating. We have no right to say that they should not. Others find the greatest pleasure in possessing certain things. We have no right to say that they should not. But they also have no right to say "no" to the man who finds his highest pleasure in spiritual thought. The lower the organization, the greater the pleasure in the senses. Very few men can eat a meal with the same gusto as a dog or a wolf. But all the pleasures of the dog or the wolf have gone, as it were into the senses. The lower types of humanity in all nations find pleasure in the senses, while the cultured and the educated find it in thought, in philosophy, in arts and sciences. Spirituality is a still higher plane. The subject being infinite, that plane is the highest, and the pleasure there is the highest for those who can appreciate it. So, even on the utilitarian ground that man is to seek for pleasure, he should cultivate religious thought, for it is the highest pleasure that exists. Thus religion, as a study, seems to me to be absolutely necessary.

6. Man is man so long as he is struggling to rise above nature, and this nature is both internal and external. Not only does it comprise the laws that govern the particles of matter outside us and in our bodies, but also the more subtle nature within, which is, in fact, the motive power governing the external. It is good and very grand to conquer external nature, but grander still to conquer our internal nature. It is grand and good to know the laws that govern the stars and planets; it is infinitely grander and better to know the laws that govern the passions, the feelings, the will, of mankind. This conquering of the inner man, understanding the secrets of the subtle workings that are within the human mind, and knowing its wonderful secrets, belong entirely to religion, for religion does not presume perfection, but longing for perfection.


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